The Pittsburgh Penguins built on their third period from Sunday in which they scored three goals with reconfigured lines. Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan rolled four lines with competence and the defensemen continued to bomb away from the blue line. For the first time this season, the Penguins beat the New Jersey Devils 4-3 at the Prudential Center.
Zach Aston-Reese continued finishing for the Penguins top centers. After sustained offensive pressure by the Penguins top line with Sidney Crosby midway through the first period, Aston-Reese began the line change. Bryan Rust hopped off the ice and Aston-Reese raced towards the cage as Crosby had space behind the net.
Giving Crosby time and space behind the net is rarely a good idea. Crosby feathered a pass through defenders to Aston-Reese (7) who ripped it past New Jersey goalie Keith Kincaid.
The Penguins second power play unit also continued their torrid run. Later in the first period, Nick Bjugstad stepped into the left wing circle and fired a wrist shot over Kincaid. Replays appeared to show Jake Guentzel deflect the puck over Kinkaid, though Bjugstad was given credit for the goal. The power-play tally tied the game, 2-2.
And the Penguins exerted domination in the second period with 65 percent of the shot attempts and 66 percent of the scoring chances. They converted twice and did so according to plan.
“I thought we were on the puck and moving our feet. The guys were into it. Their shift lengths were reasonable and we were making good line changes,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “We were really good in the second period. We tried to get all four lines involved. We need everybody to have the juice to play the game the way we want to play it.”
Bryan Rust (17) quickly snapped a pass from Jake Guentzel who rushed end-to-end. Rust’s quick wrister trickled through Kincaid’s five-hole just a few minutes into the second period.
Then the Penguins low-to-high game paid more dividends. After more puck domination, defenseman Chad Ruhwedel (1) blasted a puck from the blue line which knuckled past Kincaid. The goal gave the Penguins a 4-2 lead and commanding control which they never relinquished.
“It knuckled. It popped up right when it hit my stick,” said Ruhwedel. “First of the year. It felt good. I’m not going to lie.”
New Jersey made the Penguins work in the first period. Just two minutes into the game, Penguins goalie Matt Murray left the net open with a slow reaction to a cross-ice pass. Jesper Bratt (7) easily finished the one-timer for the first goal of the game.
Midway through the first period, the Penguins found themselves in the right position with the wrong people. Defenseman Jack Johnson properly pinched with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel properly covered Johnson’s pinch.
However, Johnson pushing offense and Kessel covering defense is a bad recipe. Kessel misplayed a bouncing puck and New Jersey winger Marcus Johansson raced past him for a clean shot at Murray. Johansson (12) didn’t miss the back chance.
New Jersey did make a game of it late. Travis Wood (7) fanned on a backhand shot which slowly slid towards Murray. Unfortunately for the Penguins, it was moved so slowly and kept moving past Murray.
The Penguins were not seriously challenged after Wood’s goal. Murray stopped 33 of 36 shots. Kincaid had a tougher workload despite fewer shots and made 24 saves on 28 shots.
The Penguins out-chanced New Jersey 20-16 at 5v5, according to NaturalStatTrick.com
Dominik Simon and Tanner Pearson were both in the Penguins lineup after being scratched for the last one and two games, respectively.
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